During the Governor’s State of the State Address, Governor Walker spoke about a newly proposed Rural Economic Development funding effort, which would give the 56 counties in Wisconsin qualifying as rural, up to $50 Million a year for 20 years. That’s a billion dollars, and Grant County qualifies.
I was contacted by State Representative Tranel and his staff and asked if I would review the proposed bill. My first impression was “where’s the rest of the bill?” It was 2 pages, but only about 2 paragraphs referred to the actual funding. Simply put, the bill clarified what makes a county “rural”, which was population density. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) would administer it with their existing programs and other programs created to utilize the funding. My comment to Rep. Tranel was that it was very vague. That’s where he suggested that we work to amend the bill to something more definitive in use of the funding.
The proposed amendment would allocate funding of $250,000 to each county for revolving loan creation or expansion. There is language that requires that the county Economic Development Organization must demonstrate that they are experienced and qualified to run a revolving loan fund program. A second proposed use was to allocate $50,000 annually to each county and regional economic development corporation for operations. A third point would allocate up to $250,000 to a municipality to be used for infrastructure in an industry park or a new housing development. I was very supportive of these points or uses of the funding. Having done this job for 18+ years, I knew they were needed. A quick survey of other county EDOs around the state showed strong support. It should be noted that this proposed amendment would only have designated the use of about 7% of the funding.
Rep. Tranel has seen the request for additional funding for a revolving loan fund and for county EDO funding before. We had proposed it several years ago but couldn’t quite get the traction needed to get it through. Like economic development, it is not a quick results activity, but rather an activity measured in years.
Speaking of time, I waited 6 hours in the Joint Finance Committee meeting hall before getting a chance to speak. The delay was due to 2 other bills that were scheduled that day. The Rural Economic Development testimonies were given by Rep. Tranel who was the bill’s author, and myself. Our time was close to 30 minutes total. That is how things go sometimes. The response during the next day’s vote by the JFC was unanimous approval. However, the 3rd point of infrastructure funding was dropped from the bill and the $50,000 devoted annually for operations was changed to a one-time occurrence. But, I am fine with that for now.
Now it is on to the Senate and Assembly for full votes. If successful, it goes to the Governor’s desk.
Is this bill needed for rural economic development? Representative Nygren and Senator Marklein both noted a report from WEDC, that in 2017 only 18% of WEDC programs went to these 56 rural counties. So Yes, it is needed! Hopefully the bill keeps moving forward.